Saturday, April 29, 2017

these difficult, wonderful days

The seven weeks since Molly was born have been some of the hardest.  Most wonderful, of course, but also hard.  

To start everything off, the day after we came home from the hospital we were back in the ER because I had chest pain and difficulty breathing, so we needed to rule out the possibility of pulmonary embolism.  (Fortunately, all the tests came back clear and it was nothing nearly so serious as that in the end!)  But spending the better part of a day in the ER with your three day old baby and your two year old and four year old, while your milk is coming in and your hormones are crashing and you're suddenly just a little bit afraid that something could be really wrong and you desperately want to see your children grow up -- well, that was a rough day.

Then severe neck pain set in, which lasted a week and a half.  I had to take ibuprofen and tylenol around the clock just to function and not be snapping at everyone I crossed paths with.  The pain was pretty bad, and I could barely turn my head in either direction.  An after-effect of two nights in a hospital bed, perhaps?  Or from sleeping strangely once we got home and the baby wouldn't sleep unless I was holding her?

By the time the neck pain resolved, I had also had a cold, which my bigger girls proceeded to get as well, and even poor baby Molly got a hint of the sniffles.  Nell got a fever and a one-day tummy bug in the midst of all that, as well, and my cold turned into a raging sinus infection.  My head pounded around the clock, my teeth and eyes ached, and I could barely sleep at night from the discomfort -- and of course, any time I did fall asleep I'd be assuredly awakened by my newborn soon thereafter.

* * *

While still in the midst of sinus misery, on the weekend of Palm Sunday, when Molly was four weeks old, Nell started complaining of stomach pain.  Her tummy, her sides, her back, and her chest hurt her.  Then she began to say it hurt to breathe.  We had no idea what this could be, and of course it was the weekend so we couldn't just talk to someone at our family doctor's office.  She was running a very low-grade fever, about 99-100 at any given time, and the pain she complained of seemed to come and go.  That Saturday night Nathan mentioned that he used to get stomach aches as a child from worry, and asked if Nell might be worried about something.  Sleep deprived and in pain and worried about my girl, I spent the entire night awake, reliving every less-than-stellar moment I had ever had as a mother, wondering what I could have done wrong to give my poor four-year-old such anxiety that her whole body was in intermittent pain.

The next day, when Nathan got home from work, we went to Urgent Care, wondering if it might be appendicitis, and they sent us onward to the ER, where Nell was diagnosed with... pneumonia.  A rather mysterious form of pneumonia that involved almost no coughing and barely an elevated temperature at all!  The doctor called her a "mystery patient."  And in the wee hours of the morning, when Nathan and Nell returned from the ER (I had come home with Ree and Molly so the little ones could sleep) -- poor Nell having suffered through three attempts before they got an IV in her little arm to administer fluids and antibiotics -- I hugged her for a very long time and we all snuggled together in our big king sized bed for the rest of that night.  And I finally slept, despite my sinus infection, relieved that her symptoms were a real physiological illness that was now being treated, and not induced by terrible parenting.

A couple of days after that I began to feel better at last.  There was light at the end of the tunnel.  We would all be healthy, and be able to get our feet under us as a family of five... if only this poor baby wouldn't be so inconsolable all the time?

* * *

Yes, around the time Molly was three or four weeks old she wasn't that same sleepy little newborn anymore; no longer did she just cry when I tried to lay her down in her bassinet or in the swing.  Now she cried sometimes even when she had been fed and changed and burped, when she was upright in my arms up against my shoulder in her favorite position, even when I walked circles around the house singing and patting her back and bouncing and swaying.  I was lucky to get a rare nap from her where she'd sleep alone once every two or three days.  Usually, her eyes would drift closed only to reopen in one or two minutes, over and over again each day.  So I just wore her in my ring sling constantly.  And sometimes she'd take nice long naps there, but other times she'd cry and cry, and I'd have to say to the big girls, "I can't hear you over the sound of Molly crying, I'm so sorry," and get right down on their level, and then tell them that no, whatever they wanted me to do with them right then, I probably couldn't do it.  I couldn't sit down at breakfast with them; I had to keep walking.  I couldn't sit on the couch and read.  I couldn't pick them up or snuggle with them as much as they wanted me to.

Nell started to draw pictures of Molly always with a sad face.  (And honestly, I'm surprised she hasn't been drawing me that way, too.)

* * *

In the week leading up to Easter, Nathan was working many hours to prepare for the big day, and I remember telling him late one night when he got home, "I just feel like every day is harder than the day before."  It was, I suppose, the opposite of the experience I might have expected to have as we adjusted to having three children.

In the midst of all the baby sadness, I was trying anything I knew to help her be more comfortable.  I gave her gas drops and infant probiotics, I cut dairy out of my diet, I bicycled her little legs, I held her with her legs curled up high against her tummy.  On Good Friday, I took her to get her lip tie clipped in the hopes that it would help her latch improve so she'd swallow less air and be less gassy and uncomfortable.  I kept her upright nearly constantly; she screamed any time I tried to lay her down.

I remember my other babies needing to be held a lot, but was it like this?  I know they didn't always like going in the swing or car seat, and I know they demanded more of me than I knew I had to give (as any baby will), but was it like this?

Sometimes we'd have a few happy, contented moments or the several calm hours of her napping in the sling against my chest, and I'd second guess myself and wonder if anything had really been as difficult as I felt it was.

Easter came and went, and sweet Molly was baptized at the Easter Vigil and then proceeded to have a pretty content and calm Easter (snuggled against my chest in the sling for most of the day, of course).   But the following days were still difficult, and I wondered if it had to do with Molly's latch, or if her tummy was just generally bothering her, or if maybe she had something called silent reflux.  So next, Molly and I went to see a lactation consultant.  The LC was wonderful, and suggested I do a method of nursing called block feeding, which we switched to immediately, and has seemed to help.  She recommended block feeding for a while rather than immediately trying reflux medication (which I asked about), since sometimes reflux is caused by (or can even just be misdiagnosed, apparently) overactive letdown and/or foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.  So block feeding is hopefully working to address those things.

But possibly the best thing the LC said, even more wonderful than her knowledgable help, was when she observed Molly smiling at me for several minutes after she nursed.  "Wow!  I've never seen a five-week-old smile so much!  She's so engaged with you and so social and so sweet."  And then a few minutes later when Molly began her inconsolable crying, the LC asked, "Is this what it's like most of the time?"  And my eyes filled with tears as I responded, "Yes... I don't know what I'm doing wrong..."  And the LC looked me in the eye, and put her arm around me, and said, "You aren't doing anything wrong.  And this isn't her personality.  She's not an irritable baby; she's a sweet baby.  Those sweet smiles, that was her personality.  This crying, this is her being uncomfortable.  It's not her personality."

I didn't even know that I needed to hear that, but apparently I did, because I felt relief wash over me.

* * *

We are still awaiting our happy ending, still hoping to find some way to help Molly be more comfortable and happier.  There are wonderful moments of happy smiles, and a few contented minutes where she'll sit in the swing for three or four minutes while I wash dishes and give my lower back a break from the constant baby carrying.  Nights are not bad, for which I'm incredibly thankful - they're probably her easiest times.  As long as I don't even try to move her into her bassinet, but let her sleep in the crook of my arm, she will sleep 3-4 hours stretches, so I'm reasonably well-rested for her difficult days.  And right now, she's lying beside me, drifting in and out of slumber, nestled against my side in bed, and life is good, and things are peaceful.

But oh, those hours when she cries and cries and I don't know how to help her - that is so, so hard.

* * *

We have been upheld by friends and even acquaintances in more ways than I can say, and we are profoundly grateful.  We've been brought meals, and I've been reminded of what an indispensable blessing that is to a family with a new baby.  And at other times, just having someone come by to play with the bigger girls and give them some time and attention, or to hold the baby for a bit, has meant everything and helped me keep some valuable sanity and perspective.  A week ago, as I got back to work teaching violin lessons, the dad of some special students cleaned my kitchen for me, the cleanest it had been in months.  Each of these things and so many more - like a friend stopping by with a cup of coffee - has served as a reminder to try to do likewise for others once we have our feet under us a bit more.

And I'm learning to say "yes" more than I ever have before: Yes you can come hold the baby.  Yes you can help out.  Yes you can come step into our messy, messy house, and into our messy, messy lives.  And the rewards for saying yes are not just the help in the immediate that we've received here and there when we needed it, but also the relationships forged and growing.  Saying "yes" to others' offers to help can be a hard thing, but such a good thing.

* * *

I second-guess myself almost constantly.  Do I know anything about babies?  Is all this crying normal?  When she's happy, I sometimes think, "Why did I think she was miserable and inconsolable?  She's happy!  I must just have been doing something wrong.  I'll get it right next time she cries."  And when she's crying, and I'm pacing the house, bouncing and patting and shhhing and singing, I can barely remember how I managed to calm her down in other moments.

When we are out and about, she'll often sleep happily in the sling at church or other events, and I'm not sure anyone would know or believe what these long days at home can be like.  Inevitably someone will come up to me and say, "Enjoy every moment; it goes by so fast."  (And I look down at my almost-five-year-old and I know that they are right.)

Someday, when this is behind us, I find myself wondering what my faulty memory will retain and what will slip through the cracks.  Will I look back at photos of this sweet baby smiling, and wonder what I was so agitated about, why my head and jaw ached from the tension brought about by listening to a baby crying and not being able to soothe her?  Or will I remember the desperation of the moments when I just didn't have enough of myself to go around, to tend to everyone's needs, to hold everyone close enough?

{If history is any indication, I'll probably still be second-guessing myself, doubting whether my memory of events is at all accurate, and assuming I simply didn't handle things as well as I should have!}

I am a little tired, and filled with self-doubt at times, and I am sad for my baby girl when she is sad.

But mostly I am filled with a sort of fierce love -- that no matter how many friends have happy, contented babies who may sleep well and coo and giggle all day long or sit in their car seats or swings happily -- this baby, our Molly girl, is the one I love dearly right now, and I will continue to do anything I can to try to calm and comfort her, and when that fails, I will just keep whispering to her, "We'll figure it out, girlie.  I'm here with you.  We'll get through this.  I love you."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nellisms, Vol. 8

Nell: "Mommy, can you say something to me?"
Me: "What do you want me to say?"
Nell: "I want you to say something presentable."

It's been a long time since I've done a post of Nell quotes, so some of these are from quite a while ago.  But here we go... a few particularly "presentable" conversations that have happened in our family in recent months:

* * *

Playing on the piano one day:
High notes - "This is Mozart!"
Low notes - "This is Bach!"

* * *

Pretending to play an air violin:
"I have to practice this piece.  It's a really hard piece.  You have to wiggle all your fingers at the same time.  It's a really finger-wiggling piece.  You have to practice it two times every day."

* * *

"If you practice really hard on your violin every day then you can be a doctor.  But if you don't then you can't be a doctor."

* * *

Practicing her violin one day:
"I just am done playing and my brain doesn't have any more music in it today."

Wobbling her head around: "I'm being a wild wild wild girl!"

* * *

She enjoys all types of weather with equal enthusiasm:
"It's such a nice rainy day out!  It's so nice out!  I love this rainy day!" //  "Isn't it delightful out today?  It's so warm and sunny!"

* * *

Upon hearing a song about a Christmas party on the radio back in December:
Nell: "Christmas potty?"
Me: "Christmas party!"
Nell: "Oh.  But is there a Christmas potty at the Christmas party?"

* * *

"When I'm grown up, next Halloween when I'm really big like probably fourteen, I'm going to make a costume and be a real mermaid."

* * *

Very sadly one night at bedtime:
"I'm just so scared because I don't have my beautiful Daddy with me right now!"

* * *

Crying out in her sleep, clearly having a nightmare about The Nutcracker (a borderline obsession of hers):
"The mice!  No, no, the mice! The mice!"
(I kind of love it that her scariest dream has been about a ballet.)

* * *

Me: "I'm going to come play with you guys in the family room in a minute."
Nell: "Mamas don't play.  They wash dishes."

After telling me she was afraid of a fly:
Me: "You don't need to be afraid of a fly; the fly is probably more afraid of you because it's so little and you're so big compared to that fly!"
Nell (crying): "The fly doesn't like me because I'm big but... but... I like me being big!"

* * *

Nell: "I read a book today with Aunt Hannah!"
Me: "What book?  What was it about?"
Nell: "It was about... like... a girl... and such and such."

* * *

"I wemember because I have a weally good wemembewy."

* * *

At bedtime:
Nell: "Oh no! I won't be able to dream tonight!"
Me: "Why not?"
Nell: "Because I don't have 'dreamer' on, you know, my little bum! I'm not wearing my undies that say 'dreamer' on them!"

* * *

Me: "Nell, I'd like you to pick up the books all over the floor please."
Nell: "Umm, okaaaay, I will just do EVERYthing."
(Our poor over-worked Cinderella child)

* * *

"Ballerinas don't even need to go potty did you know that?"

* * *

Me: "Do you want some pear?"
Nell: "Some WHAT? Some BEER?!"

After talking about how birds eat bugs and worms:
"But that's not nice to eat a nice beautiful dead worm that is feeling sad!"

* * *

Me: "How old do you think Grandma is?"
Nell: "Fourteen."

* * *

"I just don't really like boys; I like girls, and I don't like boys, except I do like daddies."

* * *

Me: "What's your favorite book?"
Nell: "I like all books.  Well, not bad books."
Me: "What makes a book bad?"
Nell: "Well, I like nice bad books."
Me: "What's a nice bad book?"
Nell: "Like a book with a bad guy but two nice guys too."

A few theologically-inclined quotes and conversations:

"I'm just nice! God made me nice!"

* * *

"You mean Jesus never did anything wrong?  Wow.  Then I'm going to do that today, too."

* * *

"When God made me he got some paper and he drawed me and then he colored me with a shirt and shorts and then he cutted me out with scissors, he cut right around my five fingers like this so then I had fingers!"

* * *

 And on a subsequent day, clearly still pondering the matter of creation:
"Wait, how does God attach you?  How does God make you and attach you?"

* * *

Nell: "How are we going to be raised when Jesus comes back?"
Me: "I don't know exactly how; the Bible says a trumpet will sound and all the people who ever died loving Jesus and trusting in him will be raised to be with him forever."
Nell: "Wow.  That's pretty magic."

Pondering the future:

"When I'm grown up and have kids I'm going to give them lots of chocolate for dessert.  And I'm going to give myself lots of chocolate, too."

* * *

"Who can I marry when I want to get married?  Because Daddy is already married to you and Uncle Andrew is married to Aunt Hannah, so there's no one left."

* * *

To me and Nathan:
"I want to stay here forever and never move away when I grow up to be a grown up, because I love you guys and I want to stay with you forever.  I'm never gonna move away; I'm gonna stay here.  I promise.  'Cause I love my bedroom and I love seeing you guys."

* * *

"When I grow up, I'm never gonna get married and have a baby because having a baby might hurt, but I want to go to someone's house that has kids and just ask them if I can have one of their kids and take it home."

And finally, some sister conversations!

Sitting on the toilet, singing improvisationally:
"Mawie is my sister!  She's a sister and I'm a sister!  I love her so much!  Sometimes we fight and we need to figure it out!  Fiiiiiguuuuuure it oooooouuuuuut!"

* * *

"Mawie you're a sweet girlie.  I love you and your face makes me happy."

* * *

Pointing to Ree:
"That girl is a bad bad bad bad witch."   (Then, turning to me, by way of practical explanation): "...PRETEND."

Playing together at the park:
Nell: "We're in California and we have to go all the way across the river because we're going to Africa!"
Ree: "Yeah!"
Nell: "It's like, ten miles at least!"

Patiently explaining to Ree how to make the sound "Shh":
Nell (slightly patronizingly): "No Wee it's not 'sssss' it's 'shhhhh' with your tongue back in your mouth more!"
Ree (agreeably): "Oh! Dah! (yeah!) Ok!"

* * *

Nell: "Do you want a little tuft on your head?"
Ree: "No!"
Nell: "But Wee I weally want you to be a tufted titmouse!"
(Can you tell we enjoy birds around here?)

* * *

Playing doctor together:
Nell: "Okay Mawie now we need to cut you open."
Marie: "Whyyyyy?"
Nell: "I know, I know!  But it will not hurt; I'll do it so so gently okay?"

* * *

In the car:
Nell: "Mawie are you asleep?"
Marie: "No."
Nell: "Are you awake?"
Marie: "No."
Nell (exasperated): "You have to be something Mawie you can't just be nothing!"

 I'd say both these girls are something, indeed.

Life can be pretty entertaining when you have young children!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

a day in the life

Little Miss Molly is 3.5 weeks old and Nathan is now back to work full time. He worked part days on Wednesdays and Thursdays and Sundays these past few weeks, but thanks to the miracle of paternity leave he was home a lot to help. Yesterday was a long day consisting mostly of me feeling completely outnumbered and bested by the three kids; I'm hoping it can only improve from here...?

Molly has had a hard time sleeping for the past week or so. She reminds me of my other girls when they were babies. She falls asleep and then wakes up five minutes later for no apparent reason. Sometimes she wakes crying and it's obviously discomfort from needing to burp, but other times her eyelids just drift shut and then drift back open a couple of minutes later!  Don't even think about trying to transfer her from the Ergo or ring sling to her little bedside cot or you'll give her a real reason to instantly wake and scream. She doesn't like the swing, can't stand to be laid on her back (she probably has some degree of reflux), generally doesn't like anyone else except Mama, and of course all this is coming about as she gets a little older right when Daddy is back to work full time, I have to start work again next week, and all the busy-ness of Holy Week and Easter is just around the corner.  

In fairness to the sweet babe, she did sleep for 40 glorious minutes yesterday morning without being held, which was just long enough for me to run my aching face (I have a sinus infection) under hot water in the shower, get dressed, and start a load of laundry. Which maybe I'll be able to go put in the dryer in two or three days. 

Life is a little crazy.  The house sort of resembles the donation room at our favorite thrift store, with random piles of stuff everywhere.  It occurs to me that if we were robbed and ransacked we might not notice for a long time. I can't seem to get anything done, truly not anything at all, and this ought not to surprise me since I've had two babies before and lived through this, but somehow I had actually convinced myself that this third time, now I would finally know what I was doing and be able to really manage everything at last.  

Ha.  Not so, as it turns out.  And this reality is made harder to swallow by the fact that in the last month before Molly was born I was a productivity machine!  I got so much accomplished!  The house was tidy and getting more organized by the day!

* * *

After a frustrating morning yesterday trying so hard to help this tired baby girl sleep (with every failed attempt at a solid chunk of sleep she grew more overtired and thus harder to resettle again), we had finally made it through lunch time and it was quiet time. Hallelujah!  I told the big girls they could have a "together rest," which means they can play together if they're quiet and stay in one of their bedrooms.  It also means I get to go up to our attic master bedroom and attempt to rest if I can get the baby settled, knowing they'll be well within earshot and that they'll summon me if they have a problem.  

Finally, after nursing, changing, bouncing, patting, bouncing and patting at the same time, nursing again, changing her diaper again, putting her on my chest, bouncing and patting some more, I got Molly to sleep on my shoulder and was able to slide her down to lay on my chest. I vaguely thought to myself all the things I've ever heard or read about the dangers of sleeping in such a fashion with a baby, not to mention the habits and precedents one might be setting.  For about two seconds I thought about this, and then I leaned back against my big pillow and fell immediately to sleep.

Only to be awakened about ten minutes later by my two-year-old's voice:

"Mommy, I need to go potty!"

* * *

I whisper-yell down the stairs, "Nell, can you please help Ree go potty?"

There then begins a flurry of chatter between the two of them: apparently they both need to go potty simultaneously and this situation is difficult to work out. I advise, "Ree goes first because she's littler!  Hurry!" -- but it is too late.

"Mommy I peein!!" 
"Get on the potty! Hurry!"
"I can't! I can't get my overalls off!"

I mentally curse the invention of overalls. How could I have thought they were cute? How could Nathan have thought it was a good idea to dress her in them this morning? Does he hate me and want to ruin my life?

"Come upstairs very quietly.  Molly is sleeping on my chest, but I'll be able to help you."

While it's clear as soon as I see her that we've missed the opportune moment for using the toilet, I unclasp her overalls and whispering, ask her to go put everything in the laundry, then get on the potty to see if she has any more, then get herself a dry pair of undies.  In other words, probably way too many instructions for a two-year-old to be able to remember and execute.

Down the stairs she marches, and after several more yelled consultations from my four-year-old and whisper-yelling replies from me, Nell has successfully helped her sister go potty and wash her hands.

Now it's Nell's turn.  And guess what she's wearing?  And guess what she can't seem to get on again after using the bathroom?

Of course.  Overalls.  

While Nell is finding herself an alternate pair of pants that she can clothe herself in without help, I can hear Ree ascending the stairs to our attic master bedroom as quietly as a mouse.  Nell, who has finally grasped the severity of my need for rest and quiet, begins to wail; she's literally weeping as she calls out, "No Mawie!  You can't go up there!  Mama and Molly are trying to rest and Mama is so tired and sad!"

Thank God someone understands the gravity of this situation!

Ree has reached the top of the stairs, very quietly indeed, and now turns and yells down the staircase to Nell, at the top of her lungs, "It's OK Nell!  I came up quietly!  I just wanted to see Mama!"

I know that someday this will be hilarious in retrospect.

I give Ree an encouraging smile (because I know a fierce look will get me nowhere and will only cause a loud meltdown) and whisper, "Go back downstairs sweetie!  It's still quiet time!  I'm resting and Molly is asleep.  Go put those undies on!"

In a miraculous moment, she agrees and turns to go back down the staircase.  Somehow I find myself thinking how cute that nude retreating tushie is, despite the fact that my brain is exploding from fatigue.  

I hear the undies operation receiving advice from big sister until it is successfully completed.  At this point, the two year old perches herself on the bottom stair, just a few feet beneath where Molly is sleeping on my chest, where I can hear every golden, dulcet sound.  She begins singing loud improvisatory songs about ponies and donkeys, all while accompanying herself with the percussive sounds of banging Lincoln Logs on the metal stair rail.

* * *

If you can't imagine having all this potty drama unfold and not budging from your bed, you have never had a sad, overtired baby who struggled to sleep, and who you knew would immediately wake if you moved a muscle.

And if you can't imagine crying when first awakened after those glorious ten minutes of sleep, and then crying again when you realized that when all was said and done you wouldn't be going back to sleep today, you've never gone for almost four weeks with no more than three hours of sleep at one time.

And all this when you have a sinus infection and your eyes are burning and your teeth ache and your head hurts and ungodly stuff is draining out of your nose for days on end.

* * *

When all is said and done, some days the hardest part of having a newborn who struggles to sleep (and we've done this three times now!) isn't even the sleep deprivation for myself. It's the constant self doubt, the wondering what I'm doing wrong, the looking at other babies who sleep in their car seats or swings or cribs and wondering where I could have gone so wrong, the feeling that somehow despite my best efforts I am still a giant failure.

I just keep reminding myself that she's a tiny, brand new, sensitive little baby and we're still in the early stages of the "fourth trimester" and it's ok that she needs me this much.  And I try to enjoy the snuggles knowing all too well that while the days feel long, this time will be short in retrospect.

* * *

While I can't grow another set of arms to manage to increase my productivity, my heart seems to have grown several sizes in the past month.

And now, I have a load of laundry that's been sitting in the washing machine for 24 hours calling my name.